“But they’ll need it for when they are in university”

I’ve noticed that a common road block for us educators to embrace new practices, new approaches to teaching and learning, new technology, and new literacies is the response…

But they’ll need it for when they are in university.

it” can be anything from a 5 paragraph easy, to sitting and listening to a lecture, to a multiple choice test, and the list goes on.

This notion that post-secondary institutions are stuck in the past, seems to work as an easy-out for us educators to resist change in our own practices and shifts in the educational paradigm. It’s not just high school teachers – who have students mere years away from university – but it is also middle school teachers… and even elementary school teachers.

When working with educators in the past I’ve used a buffet of counterpoints to provoke their thinking about this argument. No one has a crystal ball and can say with certainty what students will or will not need when they get to university; Don’t let the tail wag the dog – why are we allowing the 4 (6? 8?) years where students end their educational journey to dictate the first 15 years of their education? Change is inevitable, it will happen with or with out… so jump on board!

Yet, somehow the argument sticks. We need to do X because they will need it in university.

And then something amazing happened!!!

I myself experienced that this statement not to be true…

I am currently in university… in the very institution we use to galvanize our practices against change. And guess what? The skills and knowledge I need are the very skills and knowledge teachers are weary of, because “that’s not how universities are”. Bah! Not true! And I have proof!

Each week my professor shares multiple forms of text with us pertaining to our topic – songs, memes, infographics, hyperlinks, videos, wikipedia pages and more. We need to be literate in multiple ways in order to access and analyze the  information.

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And the best part? Each week we must compose a post in response to the ideas presented in the course material and we are NOT ALLOWED to share our thinking through only written paragraphs. We MUST demonstrate our meaning in multiple ways!

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One week I shared my thinking, questions and challenges through a sequence of tweets:

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Classmates of mine have shared through emojis:

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Through thinglinks:

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Through blogs:

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Through memes:

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This is a real university course, from a real university and the literacy skills that are helping me be successful are many of the literacy skills we as educators are uncomfortable or nervous or flat out refusing to teach.

Of course I still need to be able to read and write. But those traditional skills in and of themselves are not sufficient any longer. Not for me as a university student and not for our elementary, middle and high school students either. I need to be able to deconstruct and reconstruct meaning in multiple ways that span far beyond “traditional literacies”… and so should they.

An argument that clings to traditional literacies and opposes new literacies for the sake of preparing students for a model of university that may not longer exist is cause for concern. It is time to embrace new literacies, multiple literacies, digital literacies, and making multiple meanings in order to preparing students for the world as it is today. Because the world that used to be no longer exists… not even in slow-changing institutions of education like universities.

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We tuned in!

Before our Units of Inquiry started, grade-level teams inquired into “tuning in” (with the help of  this post from Kath Murdoch). Many teachers walked away with a new, or deeper, understanding of the purpose behind the “tuning in” phase of inquiry. Teachers were excited to put their new learning into practice… here is how it turned out in our Grade 1 to 5 classes:

Grade 1: Peaceful relationships are created through mutual understanding and respect.

Students tuned in to problems and solutions:

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Students tuned in to the concept of numbers:

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Grade 2: Citizens build communities.

Students tuned in to the concepts of “community” and “citizenship”:

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Grade 3: Decisions impact conseqeunces.

Students tuned in to “decisions” and “consequences”:

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Students shared important decisions they made in their life:

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Students tuned in to decisions made by readers:

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Students tuned in to the decisions they make as mathematicians:

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Students tuned in to the number of decisions they make:

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Teachers tuned in to the type of decisions they make:

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Grade 4: Relationships are affected by learning about people’s perspectives and communicating our own. 

Students tuned in to the concepts of perspective and relationships:

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Students tuned in to different representations of numbers:

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Grade 5: Relationships among human body systems contribute to health and survival. 

Students (and teachers) tuned in to the concept of systems:

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Students tuned in to what they think they know about body systems:

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I love that the students’ thinking is front and centre!

I love that the students’ thinking is visible!

I love that students were able to demonstrate their thinking in a variety of ways!

I love that teachers tuned into conceptual understandings, not just topic knowledge! 

I love that transdisciplinarity is evident!

I love that teachers were acting as inquiries themselves… doing reconnaissance to find out about what their students bring to a Unit of Inquiry!

The feedback from teachers about “tuning in” has been great! Teachers are excited because they have learned about their students’ prior knowledge, their misconceptions, their interests and their questions. It has not only provided them with diagnostic assessment data, but also a road map that illuminates “where to next?” based on students’ needs and interests! I can’t wait to see where these inquires lead!

How do you “tune in” to your students’ thinking?

Classroom Set-Up: How much should we be doing without students?

Every year many teachers spend hours upon hours setting up their classroom to ensure it is picture perfect before the students arrive.

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But I wonder, by doing so, are we taking away some great learning opportunities for students? In PYP classrooms, we start the year with blank walls to ensure there is lots of space to display students’ questions and students’ thinking, but what other classroom set-up jobs should we be sharing with students? Involving students in classroom set-up is not only a great way to build a sense of community and send the message that it is our classroom, not my classroom,  but their are also some great opportunities for math, literacy and transdisciplinary skills… if you’re looking for them!

Here is a list of some typical classroom set-up jobs that involve literacy, math and transdisciplinary skills that could be shared with students:

Covering bulletin boards: measurement, surface area, cooperation, problem solving, group decision making, planning skills

How much paper will we need to cover this bulletin board? How can we figure it out? What tools could we use? Is there another way to figure that out? 

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Bulletin board borders: measurement, perimeter, repeating patterns, adding, multiplying, creativity, planning, organization, fine motor skills

How much border will we need to go around the outside of the bulletin board? How can we figure that out? How wide should the border be? How do we know if we have enough? What designs can we put on the border so it is appealing to the eye? 

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Sectioning Bulletin Boards: Shape and space, measurement, division, fractions, arrays, problem solving, cooperation, analysis, spatial awareness

How many equal sections do we need? How big will they be? How many rows and columns can there be? How can we be precise? How can we section them off?

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Arranging desks/tables: equal groups, shape and space, multiplication, division, problem solving, listening, speaking, planning, gross motor skills, safety

How many different ways can we arrange our desks into groups? How many different ways can we arrange our desks into equal groups? How can we set up our tables to maximize the number of chairs that fit around? Which arrangement gives us the most space? 

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Name tags: Literacy, printing, letter formation, capitalization, non-verbal communication, respecting others, planning, organization

How we can show which cubby belongs to who? Why do we need to label cubbies? What do we need to remember when we write our names? How can we make sure our letter are the proper size and shape?


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Classroom Library: sorting, genre, organization skills, labelling, counting, adding, estimation, planning, group decision making

How can we organize our books? Is there a different way to organize them? Where should we put them? How should we label them? What are the fancy literacy names for these kinds of books? Where can we find out? How many do we have in total? How will people know where to put them back?

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Toy Shelves: sorting, labelling, organization, systems, cooperation, making group decisions, planning, speaking, listening,

How can we sort our toys? How can we keep them organized? What should we label each bin? How will students know where to put them back?

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Student-Made Class Alphabet Strip: Literacy, letter formation, letter sequencing, letter sounds, upper case and lower case, writing, synthesis, fine motor skills, team work

How do we make this letter? What word starts with this letter sound? Which letter comes next?

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Student-Made Class Number Line: Counting, sequencing, quantity, number formation,writing, synthesis, fine motor skills, team work

How do we make this number? How much is that number worth? What number comes next? What is the name of this number? How do we spell it? How do we make/spell this number in our other language?

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Class Schedule: Measurement, writing time, lapsed time, adding/subtracting/dividing time, fraction, percent, analysis, evaluation, planning, time management

How can we split our classroom time? How can we make a schedule that has x minutes total for literacy/math each week? How long is in between first recess and second recess? How can we show that this class is 45 minutes long? How can we display our schedule?

 

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As with most things in PYP/inquiry-based teaching it can seem that the teacher’s role is minimal. Quite contrary! In order for a teacher to share the classroom set-up duties with students, there is much thinking, planning, organizing and orchestrating needed on the teacher’s part in order for this to be successful and meaningful to students. Here are a few guiding questions to help with this:

1. Which tasks are appropriate to share with the age of students I teach?

2. Is there purposeful literacy, math or transdisciplinary skills in this task for my students?

3. How can I organize this process? (What materials should I have ready?  How long will it take? How should I split the students in to groups?)

4. What questions can I ask to guide the process and maximize student thinking?

5. Is the juice worth the squeeze? (Do the benefits of having students involved in this task justify the time it will take?) 

To be perfectly honest, I have never tried this myself… but I wish I could have before I left the classroom! I think there are so many authentic literacy and math skills needed to set up a classroom that require social, communication, thinking and research and management skills – both by the students doing them and the teachers planning them!

Have you ever tried this before with your class?

Do you have any advice for teachers trying this for the first time?

What other classroom set-up jobs would you add to the list?

 

Transdisciplinarity. (It’s a word…I think)

Transdisciplinarity.

The Golden Goose of the PYP.

Every PYP teacher’s dream…

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to spend the whole day on our Unit of Inquiry”

“How great would it be to have no stand-alones?”

“I wish all my math and literacy was authentically integrated!”

This past year, our school adopted the Common Core State Standards for Literacy and Math and we have spent the year trying our best to integrate the standards into our PYP.

We survived… and we did a pretty darn good job!

Now, as we begin to wrap up this year and think about next year, our teachers were chomping at the bit to “transdisciplinary-ify” (that ones definitely not a word) our language and math standards further. So we used one of our half day PD sessions to inquire into transdisciplinary learning. 

First our staff did a growing definition to tune into what they thought transdisciplinary learning was all about.

3 minutes to write your own definition on a post-it:

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5 minutes to combine your definition with a partner onto a recipe card:

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10 minutes to construct a collective definition with your whole teaching team on a sheet of blank paper:

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After giving each team a chance to share, we looked at what they PYP says about transdisciplinary learning:

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We used this video as a provocation to get teachers thinking about the endless possibilities of transdisciplinary learning:

 

Then we unpacked 3 levels of transdisciplinary connections:

Level 1:
What concepts, knowledge or skills are essential in order to:
– understand the central idea
– inquire into the lines of inquiry
– complete the summative

Level 2:
What concepts, knowledge or skills can enhance

Level 3:
What concepts, knowledge or skills can be taught
within the context of your Unit of Inquiry?

Finally we gave teams the rest of the afternoon to look at the Common Core State Standards with fresh eyes, through the lens of transdisciplinarity.

The result was amazing! All of our teams ended the day with a more transdisciplinary math and literacy scope and sequence. Some teams even ended up with no stand-alones!

Hopefully these documents will help to guide our thinking more next year about how math and literacy can serve the units of inquiry. It will be interesting to come back and look at these documents at the end of next year and reflect on how we can refine them again to further enhance the opportunities for transdisciplinary learning.

As we often say to our students…once you’re done, you’ve just begun!